Campfire Andromeda 2020 ($1099): The Andro2020is somewhat similar in terms of tone but pushes further into the engaging side. Bass appears more prominent on the Andro 2020 as its midrange is more laid-back. Both have similarly strong bass extension, the GB sounds a bit cleaner and has a slightly heavier sub-bass slam while the Andro sounds warmer and fuller. The Andro has a slightly quicker and more separated mid-bass though both have similar detail retrieval overall. The GB has a noticeably more forward midrange while the Andro remains slightly laid-back despite the bump for the 2020 revision. The Andro’s presentation is more coloured by its bass, being warmer and just as full as the GB. However, it has greater top-end clarity both regarding articulation and the upper-midrange. In turn, it is just as clear, however, the GB does execute similar fullness with greater cleanliness and coherence.
The GB has slightly higher definition due to its cleaner low-end. The treble is sharper and more energetic on the Andro. It has a crisper, but also thinner and less textured foreground combined with a brighter, more open background. The Andro is sparklier with similarly strong extension, if not a little more. The Andro has slightly more fine detail retrieval and brings small details more to the fore while the GB has higher contrast and a cleaner background. The Andro has a wider soundstage while the GB has more depth. Both have holographic imaging, the GB has better layering and portrays distance more faithfully with its cleaner background which can make it sound a little more multi-dimensional at times. Conversely, the Andro’s greater width can also give it the leg up so both prove to be highly involving in this regard.
Meze Rai Penta ($1099): Both the Rai Penta and GB are a little W-shaped but target a balanced and smooth sound. The Rai Penta has better sub-bass extension and dynamics, it has a little more mid-bass emphasis with its hybrid driver config. The GB is quicker and more defined with better separation and definition. The GB has better timing and detail retrieval as well. The midrange is natural and smooth on both. The GB is slightly more vocal-forward and slightly cleaner in tone. The Rai Penta has a warmer tone and similar sense of body but also a slightly more natural voicing with better upper-midrange extension balancing its added warmth. The GB is more articulate and denser so both are similarly coherent.
The Rai Penta has a much smoother articulation that makes it noticeably less defined than the GB. Highs are slightly more present on the GB, being smoother and more laid-back on the Penta. Both are well-textured, the Penta is smoother in the foreground while the GB has more energy and clarity. The Penta has slightly more air but minimal sparkle, the GB offering a bit more extension and micro-detail retrieval for a more contrasted presentation. In terms of soundstage presentation, both have similar depth, but the GB has a wider stage and sharper, more immersive imaging.
Avara EST-6 ($1100): The EST-6 is one of the most balanced and linear IEMs I’ve tested. Compared to the GB, it is a noticeably less engaging sound but also more natural, the GB being more W-shaped. The bass is immediately more dynamic and extended on the GB, notes are fuller, larger and warmer. The EST-6 is more linear with a slightly more natural voicing and higher separation. The midrange is more natural on the EST-6 and more musical on the GB like the bass. The GB is smoother, denser and slightly more vocal-forward but it also has slightly higher definition. The EST-6 has better separation and upper-midrange extension.
It sounds clearer and more articulate but just as coherent with a slightly more accurate timbre and voicing. The treble is rather the opposite. The EST-6 sounds a bit more isolated with a 6k peak and it is darker overall, the GB has a little more energy and slightly more balanced quantity. The GB has more instrument body and texture while the EST-6 has a leg up on fine detail retrieval. Neither are especially bright at the very top, the EST-6 has slightly more resolution and sparkle. The GB has a larger soundstage and more immersive imaging, the EST-6 being more traditional. The EST-6 does have better separation.
Custom Art Fibae 7 (1100 EUR): The Fibae 7 is a more W-shaped monitor that balances a forward vocal range with an inviting warm tonality. The Fibae 7 has a smidge more sub-bass extension than the GB and a heavier sub-bass slam. It has a bit more mid-bass too forming a fuller, meatier bass. The GB is quicker and more natural in timbre, it has higher definition but is less dynamic. The midrange is more forward and, for some, will be more intense on the Fibae 7 due to its prominent 4kHz region. The GB is smoother and more coherent with a slightly more natural voicing. The Fibae 7 is clearer and more forward, its vocal size is slightly reduced, giving the GB a more organic, powerful voicing.
The Fibae 7 is warmer with its bigger bass so it still upholds a high level of coherence and convincing body throughout. The lower-treble is more linear on the Fibae 7 with a small middle-treble lift, while the GB has a slightly more energetic and aggressive foreground combined with a cleaner background. The Fibae 7 has slightly better fine detail retrieval in the foreground and a slightly more accurate instrument portrayal, the GB being slightly crisper. The Fibae 7 has a bit more air but less top-octave extension and sparkle than the GB. The Fibae 7 has a slightly wider soundstage while the GB has slightly more depth. The GB has better layering with slightly sharper and more multi-dimensional imaging.
Lime Ears Aether R (1200 EUR): The Aether R pursues a similar style of tuning to the GB, being warm and W-shaped. Both have similar balance overall with the Aether’s bass boost off. Both extend similarly well, the GB has a slightly more robust bass with more sub-bass emphasis and heavier slam, the Aether R is warmer with more mid-bass focus. The Aether R has slightly more mid-bass texture, the GB sounds more controlled and defined overall, that said. The midrange is more naturally voiced and slightly more forward on the GB. The GB has a larger vocal size, it is smoother, more powerful and more coherent in voicing. The Aether R is higher energy, it has greater definition and is more articulate and open up top.
However, the Aether R is also a bit upper-midrange biased which affects its timbre and coherence, being raspier and slightly strained at times. The Aether R has a more energetic treble in general. Both have 5kHz emphasis, but the Aether R has more upper-harmonic lift granting it a more vibrant, sparklier presentation. The GB is a bit more-focussed in the foreground, it has more texture and instrument body. However, the Aether R has a cleaner transient response, its background is just as clean, but it has superior fine detail retrieval and more micro-detail due to its more prominent top-octave. The Aether R has similar width but not quite as much depth as the GB. The Aether R has better separation and also sounds quite multi-dimensional, it doesn’t layer quite as well as the GB that said.
MMR Homunculus ($1699): TheHomunculusis also a balanced and natural earphone from MMR with a hybrid driver configuration. It has better bass extension with its DD woofer, and the bass timbre is more natural and linear in tuning. The GB is slightly quicker with sharper attack though the Homunculus sounds more textured and almost as defined. The midrange is more vocal-forward on the GB. The voicing is generally more natural on the Homunculus, though neither are especially linear so they do vary a bit track to track. The Homunculus benefits from better extension and a slightly cleaner tone. Both are also well-defined, the GB is fuller and denser with slightly higher coherence. The Homunculus is a touch upper-midrange leaning so its male vocals can sound a little dry at times but it impresses for the most part.
The GB has a more powerful voicing while the Homunculus sounds a bit more linear and clean with less obvious colouration. The top-end is more energetic on the GB while the Homunculus is a touch smoother and more linear throughout. The GB has slightly more body, the Homunculus has greater fine detail retrieval but also a lighter note weight. Both have a clean and relatively even middle-treble, the Homunculus has better extension and micro-detail retrieval while the GB has more energy and focus in the foreground. The Homunculus also has a well-rounded stage of slightly larger width. Both have multi-dimensional imaging, the GB is slightly more holographic perhaps due to its more engaging foreground tuning and richer note structure.
The GB is one of those earphones that really grew on me over time, and I found myself appreciating its nuances more and more during my weeks of testing. For its warm, smooth signature isn’t immediately engaging, it doesn’t awe with separation and clarity like many high-end IEMs. Still, the long-term listening makes or breaks, and you can bet Joseph has crafted a modern legend here. The Gae Bolg carries a gorgeous sense of coherence with its organic note structure. It weaves this together with a clean, agile transient response that upholds definition and focus. Meanwhile, the presentation involves like few others, with exceptional layering and immersive multi-dimensional imaging. Better accuracy, timbre and soundstage expansion can be easily found, but few craft musical enjoyment so eloquently as the Gae Bolg. This earphone is a master craft for those wanting a highly coherent and immersive presentation, bulletproof build quality and visually striking design.
The Gae Bolg is available from Metal Magic Research (International) for $1199/1399 USD for the Lite/Complete bundles respectively at the time of writing. I am not affiliated with MMR or Eletech and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.
Track List –
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Bob Segar – Night Moves
Childish Gambino – Kauai EP
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Dirty Loops – Next To You
John Mayer – New Light
H.E.R – I Used To Know Her
Kehlani – While We Wait
Lee Suhyun – Alien
Mac DeMarco – This Old Dog
MAMAMOO – TRAVEL
Missy Higgins – The Sound of White
Nature TV – Emotion Sickness EP
Nirvana – Nevermind
Radiohead – Pablo honey
Steely Dan – Aja
The Cranberries – No Need To Argue
The Marshall Tucker Band – The Marshall Tucker Band
The Rolling Stones – Hot Rocks
Tori Kelly – Solitude
Weezer – Weezer
Vaundy – strobo
ZICO – THINKING Part.2